08 April 2021
Yes, I was a Chess kid. I went to Chess club, competed in national Chess tournaments, somewhere in my house is a binder of completed Chess homework (I’m not kidding).
And I rarely play Chess anymore.
The game’s biggest problem is how it rewards repeated play over strategic thinking. Someone who’s played a hundred games will almost always beat someone who’s played significantly less. As such, you’re constantly looking for players of similar experience in order to get rewarding games, because playing against someone significantly more or less experienced is less fun.
Thrive kicks that barrier to play in the gut, delivering something I’d long forgotten: the joy of learning a game through play.
Thrive is a two player abstract strategy game, where players seek to be the dominant lotus flower colour. Each turn players move any of their six lotuses across the six-by-six square, then add two pegs to any of their pieces. If you move a piece on top of an opponents, you capture it, winning the game if they now only have one piece left. Each lotus starts with a red peg in its centre and a white peg one space “forward” from it. These white pegs represent where your piece can potentially move from its current position (i.e. the red peg) and as pieces are never allowed to rotate or flip, the only way to move backwards or sideways is to add pegs in those positions.
This is a game where the mechanics steered the visual design, but I need to stress how beautiful this game is. Fabric printed game board, pleasingly chunky plastic pieces and sturdy wooden pegs, even choosing a lotus flower to represent the game’s peg growing pieces is sublime. The whole game feels luxurious without breaking the bank or hogging your storage space as well.
If it’s a visual treat for the eye, playing the game is a feast for your brain. With only six pieces to defeat and perfect information of their movement possibilities, the challenge comes from knowing where to place pegs and when to act on them. Players will constantly create back and forth placements that threaten a piece or protect another, or even both. The serene looking pond becomes an ever tightening dance, looking for openings and opportunities whilst doing your best to avoid over extending or leaving a piece exposed.
There’s an elegance to how pieces grow in power as players move closer to the endgame. Spreading your pegs to ensure all of your pieces slowly gain in power feels correct, until an opponent flies across to your back row leaving you scrambling to restore order. Whilst the game only ends when a fifth lotus is captured, it’s often whoever has the most pegs on live pieces that will have the edge (but most importantly, not the guaranteed victory.)
The game advertises itself as “build your own Chess,” which in many ways is apt, but the game is also a breakdown of the quintessential strategy giant. It distils the core focus of maintaining control over the board and taking full advantage of every piece’s possibility, but without the baggage of literally hundreds of years of past games, as well as giving players more freedom to develop their own play style.
I’m willing to believe that my past has left me a little biased, that others might not be open to Diet Chess or games like it in any form, which I perfectly understand. But if you ever wanted to play Chess or to rekindle that excitement of learning the game again, I cannot recommend Thrive highly enough.
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
If Chess put you off with its varied piece movements, Thrive refines what makes the former a classic and delivers a phenomenal looking and playing game.
Try this also if you didn’t like Chess. Both games offer near-limitless depth and play possibilities, but Thrive’s barrier for entry is significantly lower and it looks so much better.
Designer: Martin Grider
Publisher: Adam’s Apple Games
Time: 20-30 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 12 Lotus Pieces
- 12 Coloured Centre Pegs
- 68 Wooden Pegs
- Fabric game board
This feature originally appeared in Issue 54 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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